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Reviewing the movies of 2014, Part XIV: The Judge; and, my take on the 2015 Oscars

Updated on February 25, 2015

And the winner is...?

The 2015 Oscars were, I must say, one of the more maddening and confounding in recent history. I have already spoken at length on the Academy's nomination snubs; check out my Oscar predictions hub or any of my 2014 movie reviews posted after the Oscar nominees were announced to see what I thought was criminally overlooked, what probably shouldn't have been overlooked, and which omissions/ inclusions were just plain baffling. Also, I specifically spell them out on a forum thread hosted by Stevennix2001, in case you'd like the neat and tidy version. That said, there were far more apparent snubs than usual this year, and some of the more blatant ones in Oscar history. This is also the second year in a row where the Best Actor race was particularly beset by snubs, at least to the best of my knowledge. I mean, really? NINE FREAKIN' NOMINATIONS for The Grand Budapest Hotel, but not a Best Actor nod for Ralph Fiennes' tour-de-force comedic performance that only anchors the whole thing? NINE MORE NODS for Birdman, a film shot-and-edited to look like one long cut, but no freakin' Film Editing nod? A Best Picture nod for Selma, but ONLY ONE OTHER NOMINATION? Add to that the expected cock-ups, like completely ignoring ALL animated films in nearly every category except Best Animated Feature (even there, for The Lego Movie), including the freakin' Sound categories and Production Design; I'm sorry, but that's some serious snobbery, and that's all there is to it. In fact, snobbery is also clearly responsible for that The Lego Movie snub, which should have taken the spot The Boxtrolls had (that is, if Song of the Sea lives up to its reputation). I also will say until I'm blue in the face that we need the following Oscar categories: Best Use of Music in Film; Best Vocal Acting--Male; Best Vocal Acting--Female; Best Bit Player/ Cameo--Male; and Best Bit Player Cameo--Female. It would also be lovely if the Academy either bumps Best Makeup to five potential nominees, or just comes right out and admits they hate that branch (seriously--it's the ONLY category that can ONLY have three nods, period). Finally, reset the Best Foreign Language Feature category to the same house rules the rest of the categories play by, and open them up to ALL Foreign Language films that meet eligibility requirements. Anyway, enough ranting about the problems we saw going into the show; let's talk about the show itself.

This year's Oscars were not that bad overall. However, they also were not that great. Sadly, much of that falls on host Neal Patrick Harris' shoulders. He did a fine job in general; his opening musical number, with assistance from Anna Kendrick and Jack Black, was pretty entertaining, and very ably performed. He also got in some good jokes here and there, most notably when he mused on the name Benedict Cumberbatch, and described it as, I paraphrase, "The sound we would get if John Travolta were to introduce Ben Affleck." Travolta will never live down calling Idina Menzel "Adele Dazeem," and he surely did himself no favors this year with his touchy-feely co-presentation with Menzel. Harris also had a pretty spot-on and funny yet ill-timed spoof on Best Picture nominees Birdman and Whiplash, which ended in him taking the stage in his tighty-whities; unfortunately, I've been told that it came on the heels of a win that made the moment more uncomfortable than funny for a lot of people. Overall, he was every bit as earnest and likeable as Ellen Degeneres was last year, but only about half as funny (if that). Certain other parts of the show went well: Lady Gaga's surprisingly straightforward and REALLY GOOD Sound of Music medley; the performances of Best Original Song nominees "Everything Is Awesome," "Glory," and "I'm Not Gonna Miss You"; some of the acceptance speeches, including those by J.K. Simmons, Eddie Redmayne, Julianne Moore, and Graham Moore; and MOST of the awards going to deserving nominees. That said, some parts were not so great: Harris' extended magic trick bit was overlong and not terribly funny (the reactions elicited from Octavia Spencer, and not from Robert Duvall, were more funny than the bit itself); the musical performances of "Grateful" and "Lost Stars" were not nearly as interesting or enjoyable as the other three; and some of the wins were not to the best choice. Also, there were some genuinely weird moments, like when Terrence Howard got really, really choked up while introducing... The Imitation Game. I was also genuinely disappointed that I did so very poorly with my picks, calling only eleven out of twenty-four correctly. However, if you check out my predictions hub, you may note that I called most of the winners to be at least First Runner-up. The only exceptions were the Live-Action Short and Documentary Short (for which I called no runners-up) and Film Editing; Whiplash was my top pick of the nominees, and I called it as a longshot, but I honestly was deeply surprised that it beat BOTH Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Of the others I called wrong, two were definite snubs; one of these I expected (The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was EASILY the Best Animated Feature, but though I called it to win I had called Big Hero 6 as First Runner-up and How to Train Your Dragon 2 as Second Runner-up, and expected one of them to win), and one I found wholly unexpected (though I thought Birdman was awesome, I both wanted to see the award go to The Grand Budapest Hotel and fully expected it to). The third major snub went exactly as expected, but I still wasn't happy about it--Patricia Arquette's win for Boyhood. In Birdman, Emma Stone gave what may be her career best performance so far, and that's high praise coming from me (also, Naomi Watts got the second massive snub of her career in not even being nominated for the film); Arquette gave a solid performance, but one I honestly rated lower than that of either Miss Stone or Miss Watts. Also, her scripted (and thereby seemingly insincere) politicizing instead of a proper acceptance speech annoyed me deeply. Anyway, there's my take on this year's Oscar race. Forgive me if I ranted on a bit; I do that where the Oscars are concerned, but then if you've read this far you probably do too. As a reward for your patience, on to my review of one of the films that BARELY made it into this year's race, The Judge.

The Judge

One of the films that barely managed to sneak onto Oscar's radar this year is the family drama The Judge, in which Robert Downey, Jr. plays Hank Palmer, a glib and mercenary (and highly successful) defense attorney suddenly called home when his mother passes away. His brothers, Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong) welcome his first return home in some time, as does his former paramour Samantha (a charming Vera Farmiga). However, his father (Robert Duvall) is downright cold to him, and the situation becomes absolutely frigid when the old man, a respected local judge, is suspected of running over and killing a man who had formerly been a defendant in his court. Glen and Dale plead with Hank to represent their father, the latter of whom in turn steadfastly refuses his son's help, instead taking on the services of bumbling greenhorn C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard). Naturally, the situation changes somewhat, as the estranged father and son navigate the treacherous waters of reconciliation, all while the son tries to keep his father out of jail and the father tries to see to it that justice is done. Billy Bob Thornton is also on hand, as the prosecuting attorney, and like the rest of the cast he acquits himself admirably. One could say, though, that this film really does belong to Duvall; I have little doubt that he deserved his Oscar nomination, especially in a year where J.K. Simmons was a lock to win anyway. The movie overall is actually not that bad, and deserves more (and better) press than it got, but in the end Duvall's performance was definitely its best shot at any awards recognition. The film's a (mostly) dark and moody drama--be sure of that. That said, it's reasonably entertaining, and well worth watching if you can follow it up with something a bit frothier.

Final Analysis

The Judge 7.5/10 Oscar-worthy for Best Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall), Cinematography and Original Score (Thomas Newman); arguably so for Best Actor (Robert Downey, Jr.), Supporting Actor (Billy Bob Thornton), Supporting Actor (Jeremy Strong), Supporting Actress (Vera Farmiga), Original Screenplay (Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque), Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. Nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall); no wins.

Hmph. Seems my movie review of The Judge got highjacked by my review of his year's Oscars. Sorry about that. Anyway, I will continue to write reviews for the films of 2014 as I see them (I hope); I will also begin doing so for the films of 2015. I hope to see Kingsman: The Secret Service sooner than later, so you can look forward to that. In the meantime, I appreciate you taking the time to read my reviews, and wish you as ever happy viewing!

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